Monday, April 12, 2010

On Being Better But Not Perfect ... in the kitchen

Dearest hungry readers,

As most of you know, I've always loved to cook. Ever since I was little, I enjoyed puttering around in the kitchen - 'macachini' - a cross of macaroni and fettucini, caramel sticky buns, apple crisp, flat loaves of bread, infinite numbers of cookies and muffins and popovers, the never-ending yellow butter cake recipe that I made so often I memorized it ... all of these were my early creations. I don't remember ever turning anything out that wasn't edible or tasty, but I know there must have been disasters (I have just blocked them out!). Luckily, I have a long-suffering family that will contentedly eat almost anything placed in front of them!

I love the satisfaction of seeing culinary creations turn out just the way the recipe says they should - this is practical chemistry at its best! - and arranging food in attractive and eye-pleasing manners. In my opinion, food should always look beautiful, no matter how simple! In our old motor-home, driving from Washington to North Carolina and back again, I took great pleasure in arranging Oreos and crackers and cheese in patterns on paper plates. One has to balance the plate very carefully walking from the counter to the table in the motor-home because of the bumps in the road, as the kitchen hurtles down the freeway at 70 MPH!

And there is never "nothing" to eat. I earned a reputation of being able to make something from nothing. I thrilled at the prospect of inventing a meal from an apparently empty kitchen! Also, having no driver's license I learned how to be very creative in the kitchen experimenting with different ingredients when I was missing the requisite ones. I called these "Food Synonyms" because they could be used often - but not always - interchangeably for each other.

But I think the best part of cooking is the pure joy of serving the food to a hungry somebody. Cooking is pointless unless there is a hungry tummy to fill and an eye to tantalize. Cooking cannot be done in a vacuum, to paraphrase an aphorism! It is my greatest joy to present a delicious dish to someone and see them savor it and enjoy the creation. I am not insulted when somebody doesn't like what I made, but I am overjoyed when they love it! And as Julia Child says, "No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize."

So now, here I am, with my own kitchen, a driver's license to explore for ingredients, and cupboards full of amazing new dishes from the wedding and showers. I've collected many cookbooks over the years, and with recommendations from fellow cooks I increased that collection over the last year. I've spent more time recently experimenting in the kitchen, trying new recipes, new tweaks, and new heights of cook-dom - most significantly venturing into the world of homemade ice-creams and sorbets, and artisan breads. I've never been particularly good at yeast and sourdough breads (except in the area of sticky-buns - for some reason I excelled there ... maybe it was all the self-inflicted practicing?) and so I've determined to master the art. A friend has provided me with a sourdough starter and I've been feeding it regularly, and produced one healthy batch of whole wheat sourdough breads.

But I've decided not to try to be perfect! I don't mean imperfect food - that must ONLY be perfect, of course. But I mean not setting some ridiculous standard for myself that "Every night I will produce a gourmet dinner," and "Every Monday I will bake twenty loaves of bread," and "Every week I will try at least six new recipes including one clean-eating dinner, one gluten-free recipe, one high-protein low-fat calcium-rich antioxidant-filled nutritious recipe" ...

I am just going to grab a whisk and have fun! And if you have any interest in cooking, I encourage you to do the same. Don't expect a perfect souffle or a delicate sponge the first day, but just plan to spill a little flour and enjoy yourself. If all else fails, just call for pizza!

With love and muffins,

Mrs H
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At last count I had 48 cookbooks and a raft of well-worn magazines from various publishers. All of these cookbooks are excellent and full of delicious recipes, but some of my favorite and most-splattered cookbooks are the following (and I've found links for them all on if you want to read reviews!):

Basic Recipes:
Cook's Illustrated The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook (old 3-ring or the 1980 hardbound ed)
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook
The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook/Dedicated to the Pure Joy of Baking

Specialty books:
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day
On Rice: 60 Fast and Easy Toppings That Make the Meal
Twelve Months of Monastery Soups
The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments
Cooking Under Cover: One Pot Wonders -- A Treasury of Soups, Stews, Braises, and Casseroles
Taste of Home's limited ed. Best of Country Cookies
Where Flavor Was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route

Favorite magazines:
Clean Eating
Cook's Illustrated
Better Homes & Garden Holiday Cookbook from Fall 2007 (a gift from Gary when we first met!)

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects



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